Sean Connery, the coolest, studliest and most commandingly masculine 007 of all time (especially in the first two Bonds, the mostly tech-free Dr. No and From Russia With Love) and a bald man among men when he cast aside the toupee and carved out a formidable (if spotty) post-Bond career with firmly grounded performances in The Hill, The Man Who Would Be King, The Wind and the Lion, The Untouchables, The Name of the Rose, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Rock…beautiful Sean Connery has risen from terra firma and is now hovering with angels.
A part of me feels a bit glum and forlorn, but then again the Scottish-born Connery had an amazing 90 years on the planet — 25 or 26 years of struggling to become a reputable actor, a bit less than 35 years at the top of the heap (Dr. No to The Rock) and the last 15 in luxurious retirement on New Providence Island in the Bahamas, in the flush Lyford Cay neighborhood.
Connery’s best Bonds (in descending order): Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, Never Say Never Again. (I’m sorry but I rewatched You Only Live Twice a while back and it hasn’t aged well.)
Finest post-Bond films: The Hill, The Red Tent, The Molly Maguires, Zardoz (a respectable failure), The Wind and the Lion, The Man Who Would Be King, Robin and Marian, A Bridge Too Far, The First Great Train Robbery, Five Days One Summer, The Name of the Rose, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Hunt for Red October, The Russia House, First Knight, The Rock.
Mixed-bag Connery-Hitchcock outlier: Marnie, an interesting film if not exactly a good one.
Connery stinkers (in ascending order): Medicine Man, Finding Forrester, Rising Sun, Wrong Is Right.The Anderson Tapes, Family Business, Meteor.
Temperamentally Sean was rarely…well, not always a day at the beach. Nor did he need to be. He came from a working-class, rough-and-tumble background, and could flash a serious temper when riled. I’ve also heard he had quite the libido. Around the time of Wrong Is Right I heard a story about an impulsive sexual matinee with a journalist in a hotel room. I know nothing, just loose talk.
The wham-slam-bam train compartment fight he had with Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love is one of the greatest hand-to-hand bouts in cinema history.
Connery will always be remembered for dressing down Nic Cage in The Rock with the following line: “Your best? Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and fuck the prom queen.”
Director-screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh (Armageddon, Die Hard With A Vengeance, the forthcoming Ice Road) confides that the “prom queen” thing was “one of the earliest lines contributed by Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement, when they came in at Sean’s request to polish his dialogue.”
At that juncture Hensleigh “was working literally day and night to smooth out all the plot wrinkles required when Sean insisted that his character, SAS Captain John Patrick Mason, be re-imagined as a British national, thus requiring the almost overnight invention of the ‘aging James Bond’ character buried away in Alcatraz by the CIA and MI6.
“It’s a sad day,” Hensleigh remarks. “I loved Sean. He was difficult and demanding and made my life hell for six months, but [The Rock] was his comeback role and believe me, he knew it. I loved working with him.”
Beware of a small error in an official statement by Bond franchise producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. It reads in part that Connery “was and shall always be remembered as the original James Bond whose indelible entrance into cinema history began when he announced those unforgettable words, ‘The name’s Bond…James Bond.’”
Uhm, nope. In Dr. No Connery never said “the name’s” — he just said “Bond, James Bond” when asked for his moniker by Eunice Gayson‘s “Sylvia Trench”. He said the same three words on a Miami hotel terrace in Goldfinger. If you don’t believe me, check the clips below — the 43-second mark in the Dr. No clip, and the 2:20 mark in the Goldfinger clip.
Beware also a passage in Richard Natale and Manori Ravindran‘s Variety obit, to wit: “It was easy to dismiss Connery in films like Darby O’Gill and the Little People, but his Count Vronsky to Claire Bloom’s Anna Karenina on the BBC brought him some respect and the kind of attention needed to raise him to the top of the Daily Express’ poll of readers asked to suggest the ideal James Bond.”
Darby O’Gill and the Little People was something of a minor film, agreed, but it was above-average for a family-friendly Disney pic. Connery was enormously appealing as the brawny, spirited, somewhat argumentative boyfriend of Janet Munro. I can’t find a link, but I definitely read a quote from Bond producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli in which he recalled asking his wife, who had recently seen Darby O’Gill, if Connery had the right kind of manly appeal he and producing partner Harry Saltzman were looking for. Broccoli said he knew Connery was the right choice when his wife winked and said Connery “definitely” had the heat.
Favorite young Connery story: “Connery had a major role in Another Time, Another Place (’58) as British reporter named Mark Trevor, embroiled in a love affair with Lana Turner‘s character. During filming, Turner’s gangster boyfriend Johnny Stompanato, visiting from Los Angeles, came to suspect she was having an affair with Connery. Stompanato stormed onto the set and pointed a gun at Connery, only to have Connery disarm him and knock him flat on his back.
“Stompanato was banned from the set. Two Scotland Yard detectives advised Stompanato to leave and escorted him to the airport, where he boarded a plane back to the U.S. Connery later said that he had to lie low for a while after receiving threats from men linked to Stompanato’s boss, Mickey Cohen.”
Great Connery quote: “I haven’t found anywhere in the world where I want to be all the time. The best of my life is the moving. I look forward to going.”